Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly 9 December 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 28, 2012

Show me accountability

The Summer School is now well underway. The project is not perfect.

The results it will bring will be limited. The people involved in it are a small percentage of those not faring well in national assessments. But the symbolism behind it is highly signifi cant.

For years, we have been force- feeding our children a public education in a one- size- fi ts- all fashion. This has left us with a large number of children who do not have the basic profi ciency in common school subjects to even survive in the modern world let alone do well. It starts with children slipping farther and farther behind their peers and our national exams at the early age of eleven help the slide into failing patterns. When they gradually disconnect from the educational system, we call them dropouts and almost forget about them.

For years, we have been ignoring the cracks in the foundation that the system is built on. We have instead geared our energy towards issues which are politically correct but pedagogically unsound. Recently, we have introduced Creole, Bhojpuri and what not thinking it is the magic wand to solve the learning diffi culties some of our children are experiencing on a day- today basis. It of course did not. It of course will not.

At last maybe we are beginning to understand why the poor fail. Children do not fail because they are ‘ stupid’ or cannot cope with linguistic problems.

The linguistic aspect is only a tiny part of the equation. Simplistic as it may seem, the poor fail because they are poor. Poverty means children go to school on an empty stomach and therefore can’t think. Poverty means when children need help at home, there is no one able to provide it. And, unfortunately, in many poor families, not enough emphasis is placed on education, hard work, delaying gratifi cation and simple sacrifi ce.

Summer School, at least in theory, will tackle some of these issues. It will provide food and hopefully an environment conducive to work. The small classes will ensure the individual attention and supervision impossible in the normal school mixed- ability large classes. Teachers have the opportunity to spread their wings in a way they are incapable of doing in regular classes where they have to follow lesson plans laid out for them by the ministry. On paper, all this is beautiful. That is why we should all give it a chance, though it does not tackle that stumbling block at the end of the primary school cycle.

In practice, however, the one element which is essential to tying all this together is accountability. The public education system has never been held accountable for the undereducated students it churns out. Schools are full of potentially good teachers. The conscientious ones work hard because they want to make a difference. Lazy souls, however, rest while waiting for the time to go to the nearest garage to do what they do best. There is nothing to reward the former. Nothing to penalize the latter. In other words, no accountability.

The teachers who have signed up to the Summer School programme have done so voluntarily. They are being handsomely rewarded for it. We do not begrudge them that. Teaching is hard work and if they have to forgo their holidays, they deserve to be remunerated. Their unions are, for once, satisfi ed. They should accept accountability and be able to show that what they are doing makes a difference. Without this, the funds we are pouring in the project will go down the drain. At this stage, let’s hold on to our optimism.

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